Genesis 45, Job 11, Psalm 43

Read Genesis 45, Job 11, and Psalm 43.

This devotional is about Genesis 45.

When Joseph was a young man, still at home with his parents and brothers, he was the favorite. His father favored him over all of his brothers, and God favored him, too, revealing to him in two dreams that someday his family would bow before him. So, at home, Joseph had power and his brothers had very little.

When they saw Joseph alone, his brothers felt that the tables had turned. They now had the power over him and they chose to use that power against him. First they plotted to kill him; then they decided to sell him into slavery.

Here in Genesis 45, the tables have turned again. Joseph here had the very power that God had prophesied he would have. How would you have treated Joseph’s brothers if you were in Joseph’s position of power?

Most people would be tempted to extract some rough justice for how his brothers treated him. Many people wouldn’t just be tempted; they would use that power to punish severely, with great vengeance.

Joseph, however, saw the power he had as a stewardship, an opportunity to do good. God had promised his ancestor Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation and that he would bless them. Joseph understood that his position now gave him the power to bless his family as part of God’s promise to them. In verse 5b he said, “…it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” In verse 7 he told them, “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” And, in verse 8 he concluded, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” This realization, plus the realization that his brothers were repentant for what they had done to him (see 42:21), prevented Joseph from abusing his power to punish his family. Despite how badly he suffered, he now saw how God was using all of it to put him in a position to bless his family, just as he had promised to do.

Think about where you are in your life–your family position, your position at work, your ministry in our church, and anything else. These positions can benefit you and, in some cases, might enable you to punish others who cross you. But, as believers in God like Joseph was, we have the opportunity to look at our positions in life as a stewardship. They give us the power to serve and bless others, not to benefit ourselves or extract vengeance. Look for ways today, then, to serve those around you and not to force them to serve you.

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Psalm 14

Read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, and Psalm 14.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 4.

Nehemiah lived and led Jerusalem as a civic leader at the same time that Ezra was leading the people spiritually. As we read the book of Ezra, we saw how the temple was rebuilt, worship was reinstated, and God’s word was instructed and applied by Ezra the priest.

There were more problems in Jerusalem than the ones Ezra was called to address. The city was virtually defenseless because the wall that had surrounded it was demolished and gates were burned beyond usefulness. God had placed Nehemiah in a position of influence over king of Persia and then God burdened Nehemiah’s heart with a desire to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That’s a summary of what we’ve been reading the past few days in Nehemiah 1-3.

Here in chapter 4, some of Israel’s enemies engaged in psychological warfare, scorning the people of Jerusalem in hopes of discouraging them so that they would quit (vv. 1-3). In response to their taunts, Nehemiah prayed (vv. 4-5) and asked God to treat those enemies justly for how they had abused his people.

Progress was made on the walls (v. 6), so things got worse–not better–in spite of Nehemiah’s prayers. The enemies of God conspired together to attack Jerusalem physically (vv. 7-8). What did Nehemiah do this time? Verse 9 says, “we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

There are times in life when trusting human solutions presents a bad testimony. Ezra felt this in Ezra 8:22-23: “I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.”

But most of the time in scripture, the human leaders God has appointed see no tension between trusting God by asking him for protection and taking human measures to defend themselves. Nehemiah prayed and posted a guard. Later, Nehemiah took some men off the project and had them stand guard (v. 16) and he even armed the men who were working in case of an attack.

You and I can learn from this in our own walk with God. Don’t put all your confidence in human measures. God is not honored when we ignore him and are too proud to ask for his help and favor. But asking for God’s help is usually not the opposite of using human means. God created us to make tools–including weapons–so that we can defend ourselves. He works, through divine providence, within human means. In fact, most of the time God’s work is done through providence, not through miraculous works. So there is nothing wrong with praying about your health concern AND seeing a doctor for treatment. There is nothing unspiritual about trusting God for your daily needs AND saving money and preparing for retirement. Be wise in the way that you live your life even while you ask God to help you and protect you daily. That’s a godly way to live and lead, just as Nehemiah did.

1 Chronicles 26-27, Malachi 3, 3 John

Read 1 Chronicles 26-27, Malachi 3, and 3 John.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 27.

Have you ever called a company to talk to a specific person but didn’t have that person’s extension number? If a real, live person answered the phone, you could just ask to be connected to the person you’re trying to reach.

Frequently, however, you will get an automated response to your call. It will tell you to press 1 for this, press 2 for that, etc. One of the options is usually, “For a list of all extensions, press * or # or one of the numbers. Then you can listen as, one by one, in alphabetical order, the name and extension of each employee of the company is read to you.

This portion of scripture is like that directory of extensions. Starting back in 1 Chronicles 22, David began making preparations for Solomon to become king and build the temple. From chapter 23 through chapter 26 today, we’ve been reading lists of names of people who served in the Lord’s tabernacle in some way. Here in 1 Chronicles 27, we have …uh… chronicled for us the men who served as leaders in David’s army (vv. 1-15), the leaders of the tribes of Israel (vv. 16-24), and leaders in David’s administration (vv. 25-34). The impression this list makes is that David’s kingdom was large and well-organized. Each person who served was known by name and his role in the kingdom was documented. Notice just a few of these details:

  • There were royal storehouses (v. 25) and they were organized into districts, towns, villages, and watchtowers. Two men were responsible for these storehouses.
  • There were geographical assignments for certain things such as “the olive and sycamore-fig trees in the western foothills” (v. 28) and “the herds grazing in Sharon” (v. 29).
  • The king had men on his staff who were his confidant (Hushai) and counselors (Jonathan and Ahithophel (vv. 32-33).

Within these administrative lists, there are indications that some of the men were especially skilled in their jobs. Among the gatekeepers of the tabernacle, some “were leaders in their father’s family because they were very capable men” (26:6). Others were described as “capable men with the strength to do the work” (26:8). Jonathan, David’s uncle was “a man of insight and a scribe” (v. 32). He sounds like exactly the right man for that role.

My point in all of this is that sometimes people complain about “organized religion.” There are some who believe there is virtue in being disorganized and loose with details and responsibilities. Many people dislike accountability even though they accepted responsibility for the results of an area. These lists of men and their responsibilities show us that even way back in the days of the Old Testament, God’s servants in worship and kingdom administration were highly organized and their responsibilities were clearly defined. Not many people love administration–I sure don’t–but administration serves a purpose: it enables people to glorify God by serving others consistently and reliably.

Where is your place in the administration of God’s work in our church? If you are a leader, are your people well-organized with clear roles and responsibilities? Could it be that one of the best ways you could serve the Lord right now is to put some effort into administration?

Deuteronomy 22, Jeremiah 14, 1 Corinthians 16

Read Deuteronomy 22, Jeremiah 14, and 1 Corinthians 16.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 22.

Critics of the Bible often point to the punishments spelled out in a passage like today’s to show that the Bible is harsh, unreasonable, and unloving. Cross-dressers (v. 5), promiscuous single women (vv. 13-21), and people who commit adultery (v. 22-24) all get the death penalty for their sins, even though they were all “consenting adults.” Rapists also were to receive the death penalty (vv. 25-27). That maybe harsh by today’s standards of punishment but it probably is not an example modern critics will bring up. These punishments seem harsh only because of how comfortable we are with sin; in God’s sight, every sin is an eternal offense, so these punishments should teach us something about how our sins—and the desires that compel them—look to the holy eyes of God.

This passage is also a favorite of critics because some of these laws seem arbitrary (vv. 9-12).

But notice the other case laws in this passage. If someone else—whether you know him or not—is about to suffer the loss of his valuable property, you are supposed do what you can to prevent that loss (vv. 1-5). “Do not ignore it,” the scripture says in verse 1, verse 3, and verse 4.

More interestingly, you’re allowed to take a mother bird’s eggs but not the mother bird (vv. 6-7). The promise of obedience to this passage is “so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (v. 7b). But this act of conservation doesn’t benefit any Israelite person; it’s just good management of God’s creation. It teaches us not to be destructive just because we could be.

Verse 8 of our passage tells God’s people to make sure that they build reasonable safety precautions into their homes. Since people in these desert cultures used their roof to entertain in the evenings when the weather is more comfortable, God’s word commanded them to be careful to protect human life by putting appropriate fencing around the roof.

These laws show that God was not harsh or arbitrary at all toward people in general. He wanted to protect his nation from becoming a lawless culture full of promiscuity. The penalties spelled out in these passages were to protect the importance of the Jewish family and to emphasize important God’s holiness is to him. The laws against abusing birds and requiring Israel to watch out for each other’s property and protect each other’s lives show how much God values human life. They teach us not to be so self-centered that we look the other way when someone is about to lose their valuable property. Instead, we should watch out for others, showing them the kind of kindness and compassion that we would want others to show to us and that God himself does show for us. If we find a lost wallet or purse, a lost smartphone, or see a wandering child, God wants us to do what we can to help. We may not have a flat roof that needs to be fenced in but are we careful to clear our sidewalks of snow and ice? As people who belong to God, we should be conscientious and kind toward everyone, not just conscious of our own stuff.

Finally, the harsh punishments in this chapter remind us of the deep grace of God toward us. God hates sin and is uncompromising in how he wants sin to be punished. He is so uncompromising that he demands that every sin should be punished to the fullest extent of justice. Yet, because he loves his creation and is compassionate toward us, he did not look the other way when we wandered from his commands. Instead, he came in the person of Christ both to look for and find us when we were lost AND to bear the just punishment that our sins deserve. No sin is trivial in the sight of God but none is so putrid that Christ’s death cannot cover it. The cross-dresser, the adulterer, the promiscuous, the self-centered one who never helps another in trouble are all savable, if God wills, through the atonement of Christ. The same goes for those who speak lies, who gossip, who break things and hit people in uncontrolled rage, who lust but don’t touch, who take the eggs AND the mother bird.

No sinner is beyond the saving grace of God; if you’ve been redeemed from one of these sins—or from any sin at all—give thanks that God is uncompromisingly holy but also incredibly compassionate, loving, and gracious toward all of us who are unholy.

Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 62, 1 Corinthians 4

Read Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 62, and 1 Corinthians 4.

This devotional is about 1 Corinthians 4.

In today’s reading Paul continued speaking to the Corinthians about how they were dividing their church by championing one church leader over another. Instead of taking sides over whether Apollos was better than Paul, Paul urged them to “regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed” (v. 1).

Paul and Apollos were on the same team–the same team as each other and as the Corinthians.

They were there–and each of us is here–to serve the Lord.

What standard, then, do we use when considering the Lord’s servants? Verse 2 says, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Was Paul faithful to do the work God commanded him to do? Was Apollos faithful? The answers to these questions were the only ones that mattered.

Are you faithful in performing the ministry God gave you to do? Only God really knows and his judgment day will reveal the truth about it (v. 5). So instead of evaluating God’s servants before that time (v. 5a), we should simply strive to serve the Lord faithfully today.

As always there are false teachers within the church who threaten it and there are biblical teachers who strengthen it. Whose your favorite teacher? John MacArthur? R.C. Sproul? Jay Adams? C. H. Spurgeon? Wayne Grudem? I have learned a great deal from each of these men and many others. Each of them has his strengths and weaknesses but the Lord does not want us to compare them and rank them against each other.

Nor does he want them to battle it out between themselves.

Instead, he wants them to be faithful to what he gave them to do and for us to be thankful for the work they do for him.

It is definitely a good thing to appreciate the ministry of others; Paul certainly felt that the Corinthians should have appreciated his ministry to them more than they did. As long as you don’t elevate any man to a level of infallibility or trust his word against the clear teaching of God’s word, there is nothing wrong with appreciating a man who is being used by God. Just don’t let your godly appreciation turn into an ungodly adulation that brings discord and strife into the body of Christ.

Numbers 32, Isaiah 55, 2 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 32, Isaiah 55, and 2 Thessalonians 3.

This devotional is about 2 Thessalonians 3.

When I was growing up my pastor used to frequently say, “Some people are so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthy good.” That might be an apt description of the Thessalonians. The things Paul wrote about in 1 & 2 Thessalonians indicate a church that was focused on end time events–the coming of Christ, the arrival of the man of lawlessness, and the final judgement on earth were all topics Paul discussed in these letters.

Here in chapter 3, however, he urged them to pray for the spread of the gospel through his work (vv. 1-2). While it is good to be looking for the Lord’s coming, Christ has charged us with work to do here until he comes–namely reaching people for Christ and discipling them to obey him. Paul was more than willing to teach about the end times, but he wanted the churches to remain faithful in prayer for the gospel to keep growing.

In the meantime, it is possible that some of the believers in Thessalonica had quit working and were living on charitable giving from other members of their church (vv. 11-12). This might be because they were so convinced that Christ would return any moment that they lost motivation to work. Or, perhaps that was unrelated to their interest in eschatology. Regardless of the reason, Paul must have heard that there were loafers in the congregation. He wrote this chapter, therefore, to remind them of his own example and teaching when he was in Thessalonica (vv. 7-10), to instruct the unproductive people to get to work (v. 12), and for the obedient people in the church to be wary of the disobedient and unproductive members (vv. 6, 14-15).

These strong statements remind us that the Christian life is more than words; it is truth lived out in a holy and productive life. God created us to care for and make productive use of the earth. Now that, in Christ, we are seeking to be obedient to the Lord, we must realize that living a productive life is part of God’s will for us. These passages apply to those who are “unwilling to work” (v. 10), not those who are unable to work. Other passages of scripture show us that homemakers are living productively, so this doesn’t mean everyone must be in the secular workforce. Still, there are some believers today who could work or do something productive who instead are “idle” (v. 6) and even “busybodies” (v. 11). This chapter calls all of us to put our faith into practice by providing for ourselves and our families.

I think it goes further, too, and reminds us of our need to be good managers of what God allows us to produce. So many Americans are building mountains of debt and are one financial setback away from dependency.

Are you working productively? Keep it up. Are you living below your means and preparing for the future? That’s what God wants us to do, too.

Numbers 7, Isaiah 32, Galatians 1

Read Numbers 7, Isaiah 32, and Galatians 1.

This devotional is about Numbers 7.

Numbers 7:2 says that the leaders of each tribe of Israel made offerings to the Lord to be used by the Levities and priest in their Tabernacle ministry. Those offerings were, according to verse 3: “…six covered carts and twelve oxen—an ox from each leader and a cart from every two. These they presented before the tabernacle.”

The oxen in this gift were not given to be slaughtered for sacrifices; they were to pull the carts that were also part of this gift. This kind of utilitarian offering was not commanded by God, so Moses might have been uncertain if it was even appropriate to receive them as offerings. God spoke up, however, in verses 4-5: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Accept these from them, that they may be used in the work at the tent of meeting. Give them to the Levites as each man’s work requires.’”

Te oxen and carts were useful and, therefore, a legitimate gift to the Lord for his work. Not every Levite needed them which is why the Lord said, “Give them to the Levites as each man’s work requires” (v. 5). Nevertheless, they were helpful to some of the Levites and, therefore, they were a thoughtful gift for the Lord’s work.

This is a reminder that people who serve the Lord in full-time ministry—pastors, church-planters, foreign missionaries, college and seminary professors, and others—need tools. Tools are an essential part of doing our work well for the Lord. I was away from my office when I wrote this devotional, but I was able to write it on a Macbook that our church purchased for me. I’m grateful that we have money in our budget for good tools; otherwise, the only productive time I would have would be time spent in my office.

I am involved in a few ministries outside of our church. My role is small and usually consists of me just giving advice. One of these ministries is frugal and spends money carefully and wisely. In terms of raw dollars, not a lot is spent of staff salaries or ministry expenses but in terms of percentages, a fair amount goes to those things. It would be an error, however, to think that the money spent on salaries and expenses is wasted. The people who receive pay offer valuable advice, guidance, leadership, and teaching. Without them, there would be no ministry, so paying them for their work and providing them with the tools they need is money well spent for God’s work, even if it is not directly spent on the ministry’s core tasks. It is something to keep in mind when you choose which ministries to support and how that support is spent.

The men in this passage gave something they made to God’s work. As a ministry leader, I would honestly rather people gave money to the church so that we can decide whether to buy a certain kind of tool or what kind of tool we think will be most useful. But occasionally people buy stuff and donate it to the church. We’ve had people donate computers, projectors, couches and other kinds of furniture, and many other kinds of tools or materials that I can’t think of at the moment. Gifts like these–especially if they are things we actually need and will use (which is not always the case with donated stuff)–are a blessing to God’s work.

If you tithe faithfully to this church, thank you! Your obedience and generosity makes our ministries possible. If you are tithing but also have skills you can use here or see needs for physical things that you’d like to donate to the church, let this passage encourage you to contribute to God’s work in those ways.

Genesis 1, Ezra 1, Matthew 1

Welcome to my DailyPBJ devotions for this year! If you do all the Bible readings in this program, you will read through the Bible this year.

Read Genesis 1, Ezra 1, and Matthew 1.

This devotional is about Genesis 1.

What is the greatest feat of human engineering ever accomplished? Could it be the Apollo missions to the moon or the pyramids in Egypt or the creation of the Internet or the Palm Islands in Dubai?

An Internet search will yield many interesting suggestions; people have designed and built some incredible things. All those things, however, required years of thinking, planning, and building not to mention large amounts of money.

By contrast, God spoke and things were formed instantaneously. That’s the message of Genesis 1. Our massive universe with innumerable planets, including earth, were brought into existence from nothing. God willed and spoke and there they were.

This is even more impressive when we consider that God is pure spirit. He created not only the physical objects in an instant but also the very concepts of matter and energy that comprise them. Imagine writing a story with shapes and rules and beings and language that do not already exist. Before you could create the setting and the characters in the story, you’d have to make up the shapes and rules for how matter and energy behave and so on. That would take time and mental effort to develop before you could even begin writing the story. But God did all this and made it a reality with merely a series of commands. The more deeply I think about this, the more it causes me to stand in awe of God and has greatness.

But let’s come back to all that people have created and accomplished. Fish don’t build homes, much less rockets. Bears wouldn’t know what to do with a computer if they had one; they certainly could never build one. When verse 26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule…,'” we understand that humans create things is because we were made in the image of God our creator.

Everything that exists started with an idea but ideas themselves are worthless until someone takes action to make them into reality. When we decide to act on an idea, to put thought and energy and effort into making an idea into reality, then we are following in the image of God our creator.

A new year is upon us. What ideas do you have in your mind that would be amazing if they were reality? Did you have the same idea last year? Did you do act at all to move toward making those ideas into reality? One year from now, what could be true about your life that is now only an idea? What steps do you need to take to move closer to that reality?

God gave you and me and every other human being the power to create. We can’t speak things into existence or make something out of nothing but we can take the ideas we have and the raw materials God deposited into this magnificent earth and follow the example of our creator.

Be a good steward this year of the mind and resources God gave you. Take those ideas in your head and act on them, moving them closer to reality. By doing this you will be obeying the command God gave to us through Adam in verse 28b: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it….”